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What's next for NYCC? Organizers talk protocols, streaming options & what 'success' means in 2021

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Aug 17, 2021, 2:02 PM EDT

After a year of virtual events, 2021 was meant to be the time when fans everywhere could finally get back to in-person conventions, with events already rolling out across the country. But of course, the COVID-19 pandemic isn't over yet, and event organizers are well aware of the various challenges the virus poses to their plans. With that in mind, the organizers behind the 2021 return of New York Comic Con have a few new policies in place that they hope will ensure a safe event this fall, and they believe their customers have their backs.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, ReedPop President Lance Festerman confirmed that October's edition of New York Comic Con will include a vaccine requirement for attendees aged 12 and up. If you're eligible for a vaccine, you will have to present proof of vaccination to get in. If you're under the age of 12, you'll have to be with a vaccinated guardian and show proof of a negative test. The move falls in line with New York City's recent guidance for all indoor spaces, requiring vaccines for things like restaurants, gyms, and performance venues.

According to Festerman, ReedPop -- which hosts NYCC as well as numerous other fan events and conventions around the United States -- was encouraged not just by New York City's mandates, but by what happened when it announced a vaccine mandate for Seattle's PAX West video game show.

“We had a nice spike in ticket sales,” Festerman said. “That tells us people want that layer of security and appreciate that layer of safety.”

The layers of safety at NYCC will also extend beyond vaccine mandates. The event will also require masks for attendees (unless you're eating or drinking), and while autograph booths will be back for the 2021 edition of the con, they'll include some special features.

“If you walk up to a table you will have plexiglass there protecting both the fan and the guest,” ReedPop director for U.S. conventions Kristina Rogers said. “If anybody is a Star Trek nerd you can re-create that scene with Kirk and Spock really nicely. It looks really great.”

The changes ReedPop has implemented in order to continue holding conventions this year run deeper than certain COVID precautions, though. Yes, the pandemic is still a major concern and obviously organizers have to take certain steps for the sake of public health, but NYCC and other events are returning to in-person participation after more than a year of major shifts in the convention landscape, including the rise of virtual convention-going around the world. With that in mind, Festerman said fans can expect NYCC and other conventions to feature a larger streaming component for at-home fans in the future.

"We look at it as our shows will never sell out again, in a good way," Festerman said. "If you want to be a part of a show like New York Comic Con, you’ll be able to be a part of it, whether you can buy a ticket or live in the area or not. We’re going to invest pretty heavily in that from a distance participation in shows like New York Comic Con."

As summer turns into fall, ReedPop is looking ahead at a number of major in-person events to close out 2021, all of them with some form of pandemic safety policy in place. Next month's Florida Supercon will require masks for all attendees, but not vaccines, while Emerald City Comic Con and C2E2 (both in December) will both follow NYCC's lead and ask for proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID test for entry. It's all part of a larger adaptation that the whole convention community is reckoning with, which also means an adaptation to a new definition of a successful event.

"What success looks like has changed in some ways," Festerman said. "We would think much, much less about the quality of the content and more about, 'Was it safe, and did people have fun?' So much of what we are focused on is logistics and safety and let’s bring people back together. And doing it in a safe way. They want to gather, they want to get together. We’re focusing on a ton of energy on community features. Whether it’s meetups by genre that we organize for our fans. Additional cosplay infrastructure. Social engagement and contest. More family activities. These are all things that is not AAA Hollywood content. We want that, but at the core of this, people want to get together. Let’s make sure we can do that, do it safely, have fun, see each other for the first time in years. Enjoy that shared experience and spectacle. Everything after that is bonus."

New York Comic Con returns Oct. 7-10.